Getting to Zero: a Doctor and a Diplomat on the Ebola Outbreak

In this course, Dr. Oliver Johnson talks about his and Dr. Sinead Walsh's book, 'Getting to Zero: a Doctor and a Diplomat on the Ebola Frontline'. Dr. Johnson spoke at the THET Conference 2018 and was kind enough to also share his message with the Medics.Academy community.

In 2014, Dr. Johnson found himself co-running the Ebola isolation unit in Sierra Leone’s main hospital after the doctor in charge had been killed by the virus. Completely overwhelmed and wrapped in stifling protective suits, he and his team took it in turns to provide care to patients while removing dead bodies from the ward. Against all odds he battled to keep the hospital open, as the queue of sick and dying patients grew every day.

Only a few miles down the road the Irish Ambassador and Head of Irish Aid, Dr. Walsh,  worked relentlessly to rapidly scale up the international response. At a time when entire districts had been quarantined, she traveled around the country, and met with UN agencies, the President and senior ministers so as to be better placed in alerting the world to the catastrophe unfolding in front of her.

In their book, Walsh and Johnson expose the often shocking shortcomings of the humanitarian response to the outbreak, both locally and internationally, and call attention to the immense courage of those who put their lives on the line every day to contain the disease. 

About the instructor

Dr. Oliver Johnson
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Dr. Oliver Johnson is a visiting lecturer in global health at King’s College London. He was based in Freetown from 2013 to 2015 working as the Director of the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership. He was awarded an OBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his leadership role in the British response to the Ebola outbreak.

Oliver and his team supported the management of more than 578 confirmed cases of Ebola in Connaught Hospital, as well as the establishment of the Freetown Command Centre and Ebola isolation units at 6 government hospitals, which saw 2,571 suspected cases, of which 1159 were positive.

Oliver studied Medicine at King’s and International Health at UCL. After graduating, he became a Teaching Fellow and helped to establish the global health education programmes at the King’s Centre for Global Health & Health Partnerships. He was recruited by Lord Crisp in 2011 to help set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health in the UK Parliament and worked as the group’s Policy Director until 2012.

He subsequently worked as Strategy & Technical Advisor for Africa Health Placements in South Africa, where he supported the recruitment of international doctors to work in understaffed government hospitals, advised the National Department of Health on their health workforce policy and helped design a Postgraduate Diploma in Rural Medicine with Stellenbosch University. From 2017-2018 he helped lead the development of a 10-year strategy for the King’s Global Health Partnerships in Somaliland, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He is currently a PhD student at King’s College London, where he is researching whether participation in a structured quality improvement programme strengthen the leadership and management capabilities of young clinicians in Sub-Saharan Africa. He is also an honorary researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

About the instructor

Organisation: THET
Organisation: THET
The Tropical Health Education Trust

Today, one billion people will never see a qualified health worker in their lives.

THET works to create a world where everyone, everywhere, has access to quality healthcare. We achieve this by training and educating health workers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in partnership with volunteers from across the UK health community. Founded in 1988 by Professor Sir Eldryd Parry, we are the only UK Charity with this focus.

We are best-known for our Health Partnership approach. Health Partnerships are a model for improving health services based on the idea of linking hospitals and clinics in the UK with their counterparts overseas.

Over the past nine years THET has partnered with over 130 NHS Trusts, Royal Colleges and academic institutions. We work closely with the British government, and are an organisation in Official Relations with the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the past 30 years, THET has evolved from a small family-run NGO to a larger entity, with six offices across Africa and Asia, and a range of projects spanning from community health to biomedical engineering.

THET is still driven by our founder’s original vision and principles: that our work should be responsive to national and local needs acknowledging that if there is mutual trust and a willingness on both sides to learn from each other, then good work will happen. This is the philosophy that THET is built on and one that we will continue to follow as we move forward.

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